Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
28 Nov

Top 9 Most Important Foods to Buy Organic

In a perfect world, we’d all be shopping at farmers markets for our produce, tending to bug-eating, orange yolk-producing chickens in our backyards, pooling our resources with other folks to divvy up grass-fed and/or pastured animals, having the farmers who produce our food over for dinner, milking the A2-casein grass-fed teats with our bare hands into BPA-free containers, culling the geese down at the local pond and roasting the dead, foraging for seagull eggs, going mushroom hunting in the forest, ensnaring chubby winter squirrels fattened on acorns and small birds, raising kale-fed crickets for alternative protein sources, and, well, you get the idea. But that isn’t realistic for most people. And heck, who would want to go to all the trouble. What with how easy it is to just swing by the grocery store on the way home from work, especially with a filthy kid in the backseat who’s just out of soccer practice (on a muddy field, no less) and starving.

However, we still want to make the right choices. We want to buy the organic foods that provide the most bang for their buck, that make the most sense. You’ve probably heard of the Dirty Dozen – that annually-updated list of the twelve fruits and vegetables that contain the highest levels of pesticide residues. Let’s go beyond that, though, because unless you’re a vegan or a fruitarian who lives on produce alone, you’ll want to hear about other foods too. Particularly animal products, which you’re probably eating on a fairly regular basis.

The following list assumes you’re hitting up the regular, everyday grocery store – your Safeways, your Krogers, your Aldis – for most of your food. It’s roughly ordered from most important to least, though after baby food, dairy, and beef, the lines blur. I’d be hard pressed to choose between eggs and leafy greens, particularly given the amount of greens I eat. Luckily, this is just a thought exercise rather than a real dilemma for most. So let’s get to it. If there was one food item that I’d recommend you paying extra for, it would be…

1. Baby foods.

The human infant is a helpless sack of flesh and poop and pee. They’re cute and lovable, sure, but they can’t be relied upon to make good food choices. And because of their ridiculously long development time, babies are far more susceptible to pesticides, especially the endocrine disruptors. An adult can probably get away with a little xenoestrogenic activity from consumed pesticides, since the systems are all but established, but a young baby who’s still developing those systems? Pesticides can disrupt both fetal and childhood development. If your kid has moved on to baby food, make sure it’s organic – whether you make it from scratch or buy it at the store. That goes for the “traditional” pureed goop people give their kids, as well as the foods Primal parents are likely to offer, like liver, egg yolks, and pureed moose thyroid glands (what, you’re not giving your baby moose thyroid?).

2. Full-fat dairy.

Dairy isn’t universally lauded in the Primal community, but I’d guess a plurality of Mark’s Daily Apple readers eat some kind of dairy, whether it’s butter, yogurt, cream, or milk. If for whatever reason you’re unable to procure dairy from grass-fed cows (no, not everyone lives near a Trader Joe’s with affordable and ample stocks of Kerrygold grass-fed butter, sadly), make sure the full-fat dairy you do eat is organic. Organic dairy ensures a few things, assuming the producers follow the required guidelines. First, the latest rules stipulate that organic dairy cows must graze on pasture for the full length of the local grazing season, during which time they must obtain at least 30% of their calories from grazing. Local grazing seasons last at least 120 days, but often much longer, so your organic dairy will be coming from cows who eat at least a decent amount of fresh, actual grass. Second, conventional dairy cows eat conventional, pesticide-laden corn and soy, and those pesticides show up in the full-fat dairy. Most samples of regular butter, for example, contain pesticide residues, while organic butter does not.

3. Beef.

Organic meat cows must meet the same guidelines as organic dairy cows – pasture access during grazing season, 30% of calories from said pasture, etc. – so their meat is going to have at least a portion of the same benefits as full-on grass-fed meat, like improved CLA content, greater micronutrient status, and better flavor (if you like the actual taste of beef, that is). They’re far from fully grass-fed, true, but far better than conventional meat. Although organic meat from grocery stores will likely be raised on soy and corn, the feed will be neither genetically modified nor rich in pesticides. And organic animals aren’t allowed to receive antibiotics, nor are they pumped full of hormones. Most pesticides and contaminants preferentially accumulate in the adipose tissue, too, so especially make sure the fatty meat you eat is organic.

4. Chicken.

You might recall the hullabaloo over arsenic being detected in chicken tissue last year. That was bad, but then we learned that at least the offending food additive – Roxarsone, made by pharmaceutical giant Pfizer – had been voluntarily withdrawn from market, and we breathed a bit easier. New arsenic-based additives are still being used on chicken farms, though, and conventional chickens are still eating Roundup-ready corn and soy that’s been dosed with the organoarsenic pesticide MSMA (because, of course, it’s the only thing that will kill Roundup-resistant weeds). Perhaps the biggest concern, though, is that the fat-soluble pesticides used to produce chicken feed transfer quite well to the chicken tissues that we end up eating.

5. Eggs.

I’ll always say that eggs from pastured chickens – organic or not – are the best, but when comparing normal grocery store eggs to organic grocery store eggs, I’d strongly suggest organic. For one, the fat-soluble pesticides in chicken feed transfer to the egg yolks as well as the chicken tissues. Two, you always want to minimize the chickens’ exposure to pesticides. When your chickens are pastured, they’re getting a lot of their nutrition from bugs, grasses, scraps, and other sources, rather than just from grains. You can afford to skip organic in that case because the portion of feed with pesticides is relatively minor. If you’re dealing with primarily grain-fed poultry, though, going organic is the best way to minimize pesticide exposure.

6. Leafy greens.

Surface area, surface area, surface area. Leafy greens, particularly spinachkalelettuce, and collards, are virtually all surface area. As such, the entirety of their corporeal manifestation is wholly exposed to whatever’s being sprayed or applied on the farm to kill pests – and it’s tough to remove. You can scrub a carrot and wash a cucumber with vigor and they’ll stand it, but if you try to scrub a handful of mixed baby greens, you’ll shred the lot and end up with watery salad. Another mark in favor of going organic with greens is that you eat so many of them. The calorie content is low, but the average Big Ass Salad has hundreds of square inches of exposed leaf. That’s a lot of pesticide exposure, especially if you’re eating your leafy greens (you are, right?) on a regular basis.

7. Berries.

Not only are blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, and other berries subjected to some of the heaviest pesticide loads, they’re also among the most antioxidant-rich of all fruits and vegetables. And when you let berries “fend for themselves” without the help of exogenous chemical protectants, they increase their own supply of endogenous chemical protectants – the polyphenols that provide so many of the benefits associated with their consumption. Organic blueberries, for example, are higher in total antioxidants, total phenolics, total anthocyanin, malic acid, and sugars than conventional blueberries. The same goes for organic strawberries, which were more nutritious and antioxidant-rich than conventionally-grown strawberries.

8. Anything on the Dirty Dozen that’s a staple.

This is sort of cheating, I know. But everyone’s different. One family might eat sautéed bell peppers every night, in which case they should probably spring for the organic versions to avoid eating the 3rd most contaminated item on a regular basis. Or another family might chow down on potatoes every day; if so, they should go organic on those. If you’re whipping up mirepoix for stock daily, go for organic celery. Ultimately, in order to determine which foods should be consumed in the organic form you must first establish which foods you eat the most. If this were a list intended for vegetarians, I wouldn’t include meat. If this were meant for a lactose-intolerant crowd, I wouldn’t mention dairy.

9. Apples.

You may not be eating many apples, but if you do, they are officially the dirtiest fruits out there. According to the Dirty Dozen folks, 98% of all conventional samples tested had pesticide residues. There’s also some evidence that organic apples have more polyphenols and greater antioxidant capacity than conventional apples, making organic apples a no-brainer decision.

The list isn’t an ironclad pronouncement that you must follow or risk death, dismemberment, and/or terminal illness, but it is a helpful guideline that I put together based on where I get my calories and the volume of the food I eat. Your personal list might look a little different, like if you eat more chicken than beef or eggs than dairy or berries than greens. Take a look at my reasoning, follow some of the links, and come up with your own list. Is it different? Identical? Let me know in the comment section!

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. Just a few thoughts for those if you that do have gardens / local organic seasonal foods. Some ways to extend your stock for those long winter months. Lactofermentation- sauerkraut , kimchi … Beets, carrots and other root veggies high in mineral content. Also realize that lactofermentation actually increases vitamin content as well as being a digestive aid. Fruits also can be made into yummy preserves sans the sugar or any unpaleo additions. There are many sources of info on this sort of preservation. I’m not sure if I am allowed to recommend the ones that have helped me best.

    Laurie wrote on November 28th, 2012
  2. For 50 years I’ve been eating all the crap food thats been on the grocery shelves based on the conventional wisdom of the governments food pyramid That I learned about in our Government run public schools. I now have diabetes and spend about $400 per month on medicine and doctor visits. Had I known then what I know now I would gladly spend $400 or more per month on organic foods to keep healthier.

    Sa wrote on November 28th, 2012
    • Sa, I’m sorry for your health issues, but blaming nonorganic foods is mostly barking up the wrong tree. That old food pyramid is much more to blame. It was full of bogus information, primary of which was the recommendation for somthing like eleven servings of grain products per day. Eleven? Who can even eat that much grain?

      It isn’t too late to get a handle on your diabetes. Since you’re on this website, you must be at least somewhat familiar with low-carb (Paleo) eating. For starters, try eliminating all sweets and grain products. It’s a much better option than medicines and doctors, and it really does work.

      Shary wrote on November 29th, 2012
  3. I always peel my sweet potatoes, Does it make sense to buy organic sweet potatoes if you peel them?

    Adam ben wrote on November 28th, 2012
    • I just scrub my organic sweet potatoes and cut off any ‘icky’ bits, but never peel them. I was always told that you waste a lot of the nutrients if you don’t eat the skins.

      Sally wrote on November 28th, 2012
  4. Positive points – We are not eating manufactured food. We are therefore not eating the myriad amounts of chemical additives and non-foods those manufactured foods contain. We are eating very little processed food. We are therefore getting so much more nutrition from our foods. We are eating fresh, whole, real foods.

    My point? As primal eaters we are already WAY ahead of the game in terms of healthy eating. I refuse to negate those health benefits by worrying and causing myself stress over going completely organic and pesticide free if I can’t find it or can’t afford it. I wash my produce as best as I can and my family and I enjoy it.

    Do your best, forget the rest.

    Ravey wrote on November 28th, 2012
  5. For those in the community who do consume dairy, here’s a yogurt that I recently found at my local grocery store: Siggi’s Yogurt. His cows, so he says, are grass-fed. Plus, other good stuff: For me this is a good breakfast option, as I still struggle with finding good protein sources (that appeal to me at 6 am) other than eggs.

    Liz985 wrote on November 28th, 2012
  6. When you say most conventionally-grown apples have pesticide residue, does that mean the residue is found throughout the entire apple, or just on its skin?

    That is, if I thoroughly wash my apple before eating it, am I safe (or at least much safer)? Thanks, Rick

    Rick Baker wrote on November 28th, 2012
  7. Eggs are my biggest problem. I can only get them from the grocery store, and my only choices are the regular ones or organic from chickens on a “strict vegetarian diet”. Since bugs are a natural food for chickens, this means they are tightly caged, which doesn’t sound any better than non-organic. I’m not sure they are worth the extra price.

    Bookworm wrote on November 28th, 2012
  8. the first paragraph made me drool.

    wood railing wrote on November 28th, 2012
  9. “Who would want to go to all the trouble?” Me. I was forced to at first. I saw the trap that city life is and I got my family out. I moved to where self-sufficiency could be done – it takes some digging to find that. I was forced to simplfy my life, become as self-sufficient as possible in every aspect of my family’s life, but I found others in the same area doing the same thing – a network. It took years before I gained (earned) trust. Guess what? Providing your family’s basic needs gets easier. You get good at it, and after a while you realize its not much trouble, but a series of challenges you meet and take satisfaction from. And that is what builds self-esteem in everyone involved, especially the younger ones.

    David Marino wrote on November 28th, 2012
  10. I thought it was such a shame that there weren’t any pastured, organic, free-range, soy and gmo-free chicken farms in Southern California that I started my own back in April. Now I have over 400 of my own birds and sell to locals all over Southern California. If you don’t something, sometimes you can take matters into your own hands!

    Paul wrote on November 28th, 2012
    • Sorry I meant to say if you don’t *like something, sometimes you can take matters into your own hands!

      Paul wrote on November 28th, 2012
  11. If you join the Proce Pottenger Foundation you can get their lists for organic farms anywhere in the US. They have reps in every state. The bigger the state usually means more reps.

    Paleo Bon Rurgundy wrote on November 28th, 2012
  12. I’ve recently had problems finding US organic blueberries at my grocery store in central Illinois.

    I hesitate buying organic blueberries from Chile and Argentina (how fresh can they be and don’t know their organic standards)?

    There are plenty of Driscolls organic brand strawberries, raspberries and blackberries but rare for blueberries. Has anyone else noticed this lately?

    Lel wrote on November 28th, 2012
    • I actually believe that wymans are more than just fine. Thought not organic, they are far better than your average.

      Morgan wrote on November 29th, 2012
  13. Check this out:

    We’re Eating What?
    The Drug Store in American Meat

    Jim wrote on November 28th, 2012
  14. I was surprised to see blueberries on the list? Are you sure? They are generally pest free on their own.

    Ashley wrote on November 28th, 2012
  15. this pretty much is a long winded way of saying, “eat everything organic”

    jake wrote on November 28th, 2012
  16. Kerry Gold Butter is at my local Walmart for I think it was $2.68 for the 4-stick package. This is in central Florida.

    Ellen wrote on November 28th, 2012
  17. Hi. For any Aussies reading this. What butter do you buy? I think most Aussie dairy is mainly grass raised, and the difference between organic and non-organic is around $4 per pound (makes a big diff when you are buying 3 each week). Any suggestions for good quality, easy to purchase Aussie goods? Also, is standard pasteurised cream ok? I can get beautiful organic raw full cream milk, but unable to get cream. Are we better just using the milk (with the higher GI effects and all) or buy standard cream? Thanks.

    Amanda wrote on November 28th, 2012
    • I’m in Brisbane and get my raw full cream milk and cream from the same seller at Northey St markets. For butter I buy Harmonie Organic butter in Coles ($6), but it is from Denmark. Also buy the organic butter ($2) from Aldi.

      Maree wrote on November 28th, 2012
      • Melbourne; I buy up 7 or 8 Paris Creek Bio-Dynamic Farms butters at a time from Vic market at $4.70- cheapest I’ve found it. Leo’s has it at $4.80. I went to get some out of the freezer this morning and my 3yr old had unwrapped one and taken neat bites along the edge and dropped it back in the freezer drawer. Makes the best ghee.
        The Butter Factory (Myrtleford) reckon their butter is from exclusively grass-fed cows. Can’t be sure but it’s available at Veg Out farmers market and has a great reputation.

        Madama Butterfry wrote on November 28th, 2012
      • Thanks very much. I’m in Perth, so options are very limited, but I’m sure Coles sells organic butter, it is just very expensive. Thanks again :)

        Amanda wrote on November 29th, 2012
  18. I am not a primal user per se, however, I do a lot of juicing & I was given a tip that I found most enlightening health wise. I take fruits & veggies & put them in a container that holds about one gallon of water & add a capful of plain old bleach. I let it soak about 10 minutes & then rinse them in plain wateer for about 5-7 minutes & then I use an old towel to pat them dry. I’m told the bleach destroys any & all external pesticides, bacteria, etc. Sorry for the length of the post. Blessings upon all of you folk.

    Garrett wrote on November 28th, 2012
    • I would not use bleach on anything I plan to eat. It won’t get rid of systemic pesticides and might cause more health issues than it solves if you do it very often. Plain water and a light scrubbing for thick-skinned produce will rinse off external bacteria just as well.

      Shary wrote on November 29th, 2012
  19. So blessed to have a husband that hunts enough venison & elk to feed our family all year. We never have to buy meat which leaves room in the budget for organic produce. Ladies, if your man has an interest in hunting I strongly encourage you to invest the money to allow them to develop it into a hobby. It strange how killing a large animal and bringing it home brings out such pride and confidence in them.

    Jen wrote on November 29th, 2012
    • You are SO right! When my husband retired from the USMC active reserve, he needed a hobby when he wasn’t flying for the airlines (he’s home 3-4 days a week). He wanted to take up hunting. I resisted this idea because the thought of not being able to control the kill (like in a slaughter house) was very upsetting to me. After a year, I relented and BOY! did that make a difference. He’s been hunting now for 4 years and he has changed. I LOVE the taste of wild elk, deer and bison. And he loves being our family’s provider.

      Kiki wrote on November 29th, 2012
  20. I’m surprised that beef is number 3 as I would have put chicken and pork ahead of it on the list. To my mind Pigs and chickens are often the worst fed and badly kept animals. In Ireland, where I live, cows, lambs and sheep are pasture raised and are generally not fed antibiotics which means that we don’t have to worry so much about buying organic beef, lamb, mutton,etc. But with pork and chicken it’s not so clear as to how they animals have been kept, so generally I go for organic chicken and pork/bacon that is marked ‘outdoor rared’. It’s actually not much more expensive than the bog standard supermarket variety. For instance an organic chicken at my local farmers market costs about 17 euros versus 6 euros for a corn feed supermarket one. Initially this may seem like a huge difference but when one factors in the weight it’s actually pretty good value. The o/chicken is usually about 2.4 kilos and the supermarket c/f chicken is generally about 1 kilo. So, it only costs me, maybe 3 euros more to buy the organic chicken which isn’t gonna break the bank. And with pork it’s about the same extra cost percentage wise to go organic/outdoor rared (about 20-25 percent).

    With fish it is possible to buy organic but I find that it’s generally not much better than the regular farmed variety with the producers only swapping regular grain for organic and giving the fish a bit more space to roam about. So, other than freshly caught fish like, cod, mackrel,tuna, sardines, mullet,etc, I tend to go for Atlantic wild salmon/trout imported for Marks and Spencers. It’s expensive but not too crazy if one buys in bulk and they usually have specials when you buy 3 or more. Again, I guess it costs me about 25 percent more but it’s so worth it when you compare the quality of farmed salmon to wild salmon.

    Gerry wrote on November 29th, 2012
    • I love your post but I am wondering whether the Atlantic salmon remarks are accurate. I read that the Atlantic salmon were so over fished that they are all but extinct and not a good source for commercial fishing and therefore virtually all Atlantic salmon are farm-raised. I am not familiar with Marks and Spencers. Do they have small scale fishing that somehow locates those wild salmon still remaining in the Atlantic? Speaking of Trader Joes which has been praised in the comments about butter. I have a comment about their Coho salmon. We used to buy Coho because they are vegetarian salmon and therefore contain very little mercury and other contaminates. Trader Joes’ Coho was so good but now they have gotten a new supplier who cuts off all the skin and underlying fat and markets the product as skinless as thought that is a good selling point. Actually he has removed the fat and probably is selling it to vitamin companies. We the consumers are supposed to buy the remains of the salmon at virtually the same price per pound that the original supplier’s fish cost but we are getting a drier and a less tasty fish. Worst of all we are missing all the health benefits of the wonderful healthy fats that are supposed to be in salmon fat but are removed form this new supplier’s version. We are really being abused. I regularly comment at the desk but there have been no changes. The clerk said he can’t do anything about it but would pass my comments up.

      Jean wrote on November 30th, 2012
  21. If I were to shop at my local conventional box grocery store for organic produce, grass-fed meat and organic poultry (they don’t sell pastured poultry), the prices are through the roof compared to what we pay at our local natural foods co-op or sometimes even Whole Foods.

    There’s a quote of Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms that has made its way around Facebook…”If you think the price of organic food is expensive, have you priced cancer lately?”

    Vanessa wrote on November 29th, 2012
  22. Coffee. If you are a regular coffee drinker, organic is the only way to go. conventional coffee contains an immense amount of pesticides.

    Fritzy wrote on November 29th, 2012
  23. Earthbound Farms has a coupons program — they send out printable coupons each week for their produce. It’s sold in my regular grocery store and at Sprouts and Whole Foods. It makes for a great deal on their lettuces even at Whole Foods, and they also sell organic frozen berries, fresh green onions, carrots, etc. You can sign up at their website. They send out e-mails a couple of times a week — don’t delete them because they tell you when a new coupon has arrived. I almost exclusively purchase their lettuce unless I get something else in my Bountiful Basket.

    Christine Springer wrote on November 29th, 2012
  24. Awesome info on the Organic Dairy and Beef. I had always wondered about how benefecial Organic was to conventional, knowing that grass fed or pasture raised was clearly superior. Nice to know that organic still gives you some of those benfits, while really minimizing some of the really bad stuff.

    John wrote on November 29th, 2012
  25. Hmmm, I wonder if Wyman’s berries are treated at least close enough to certain guidelines to make them worthy of consumption in spite of them not being organic. I do believe their wild blueberries are only touched by herbicides when absolutely necessary. Plus, they do grow wildly, which should play some role in making them higher in antioxidants.

    Morgan wrote on November 29th, 2012
  26. This is overwhelming. You have to be rich to eat like this!!

    Liz wrote on November 29th, 2012
    • Being overwhelmed is counterproductive. Just learn the basics and try to choose as wisely as you can on whatever your food budget allows. My family eats plenty of nonorganic food, although I do try to stay away from the “dirtiest” ones. We are all healthy, energetic, disease-free, and none of us ever gets sick. A fairly low-carb diet combined with sufficient exercise is probably a better choice than spending money you haven’t got on an all-organic diet, (which IMO is somewhat overrated) and then stressing out over it.

      Shary wrote on November 29th, 2012
      • Totally what they just said. My husband and I splurge on organic milk and that’s about it. We do buy organic fruit and veggies if they’re on sale, but other than that, our budget just doesn’t allow us to eat a lot of organic foods.
        If you’re close to a farmer’s market, you could probably score a lot of locally grown stuff (that is usually organic) for really cheap.

        LisaL wrote on November 29th, 2012
  27. Hello
    Hyhank you for your inspirational words. Your Yule time ecourse is very appealing, however it is 38deg C here and summer is here tomorrow.
    Do you have a summer course available for we Southern Hemisphere folk?
    Your new Wheel project sounds very inspiring.

    Adrianne wrote on November 29th, 2012
  28. Anyone have any tips for getting your spouse on board with the organic/local thing? I could use some advice…hubby is totally game on primal/paleo living, but not with organic.

    My spouse is the one who is the grocery-shopper as I work a very demanding job with long hours, and he’s still looking for work. We can afford it but he hates paying more than double the price of conventional eggs, for example. Any ideas??

    Enna wrote on November 29th, 2012
  29. be careful folks, not all organic food at grocery stores raised nearly as healthy as buying from local farmer. try hydroponic growers for fresh produce in winter. gmo is important too. but as we all know you can only do what you can. buy from locally grown farmer all you can whatever else you can afford organic grocery store.:)

    joanne ryan wrote on November 29th, 2012
  30. We get our eggs (most of the time) from my husband’s parents. They have chickens that roam free. Honestly, other than the shells being A LOT thicker than ones you get in a store.. they taste exactly the same as a store bought egg and I know that they don’t feed their chickens crap. I know they’re healthier, but just going by taste, there is no difference.

    Anyway, we don’t buy much organic stuff unless it’s on sale, but we do splurge on organic whole milk. It tastes SO much better than non-organic stuff. So creamy and rich… yum yum.

    LisaL wrote on November 29th, 2012
  31. Excellent article and even better comment thread. I am fortune to live in a small coastal community with an active and plentiful farmers market as well as fresh local seafood at the ready! It may cost a little more but it sure is worth it.

    Josh wrote on November 30th, 2012
  32. I’m guessing those bagged baby carrots are bad for you since they taste funny.

    Marlene wrote on November 30th, 2012

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